For a group of farmers in southern Queensland, the past six years have been a story of no water, no growth, and no end in sight.
- Farmers in the South Burnett are facing another year with little to no water after a lacklustre wet season
- A project to build more water storage could still be years away
- Water reliability could double the size of the South Burnett agricultural industry
After consecutive years of reduced water allocations due to the drought, South Burnett farmers are still years away from getting a resolution to their water woes, and it is holding back the prosperity of the entire region.
Peter Enkelmann has been growing cotton at Silverleaf, north-west of Murgon, for decades. He had a good crop this season, no thanks to his irrigation.
“We ran out of water but the rain came at the critical time and made the difference to the crops, so we finished up with quite successful crops,” Mr Enkelmann said.
He is in the Barker-Barambah water supply scheme which pulls from Bjelke-Petersen Dam.
After the predicted La Niña weather event failed to deliver, the dam is only sitting at 7.9 per cent capacity.
Further south in Moffatdale, fish farmer David Rose was also facing another dry year.
“We have three bores on the farm … we’re about the drill another bore closer to the house trying to find water deeper down.”
Mr Rose also grows lucerne but will not have enough water for the crop and the fish farm.
Five projects have been shortlisted in a feasibility study to fix the South Burnett’s water problems, including a new weir on Barambah Creek near Murgon.
Mayor Brett Otto said the local council had moved to the final stage of the study, but it would not be finished until June 2022.
“It could be that there’s more than one project that gets progressed through to stage 3, which is the detailed business case,” he said.
“It could be for one of those projects that the business case could be completed earlier and it could move through to the construction phase.
“So it doesn’t necessarily mean that a particular project would be held back by 12 months.”
But Cr Otto said it was too early to tell which projects would be prioritised.
‘Water is life’
The South Burnett economy is worth approximately $360 million a year, a figure that could grow to $500 million and more if there was reliable water, according to Cr Otto.
For Mr Enkelmann, having a reliable source of water would be life-changing.
“Reliability would even change the crops that we grow but certainly would allow us to expand and update our equipment,” he said.
“With the high cost of water, we should be growing more high-value crops.
Barker-Barambah Irrigators Advisory Committee chair Stuart Nicholson said farmers needed to know how much water they were getting.
“Our scheme reliability is somewhere around 76 per cent officially but if you look at what’s actually being pumped, we’re only able to pump 36 per cent of that allocation,” he said.
“There’s a big discrepancy and nobody can build an industry, with all the inputs and loans that go into the industry, on a 36 per cent reliability.”
Mr Nicholson said a buy-back scheme where the government bought back some of the allocation and redivided it could help offer more reliability but the committee would prefer more water storage.